Cars with Worst Design. Ugly Cars
Saturday, October 6th, 2007
Car geeks are generally an outspoken group. But they really put the pedal to the metal when Hagerty Insurance, a specialist in collector cars, surveyed its policyholders for their picks of the worst car designs of all time.
In This Post:
I. Top Ten: Worst design
II. Top Ten: Ugliest cars
III. BONUS VIDEO:
1. Ugly Cars
2. Must See – Idiotic Car Wrecks
Here’s what one connoisseur had to say the about the top pick, American Motors’ Pacer: “0 to 60 in four-and-a-half hours. AMC’s only conceivable excuse for this stylistic horror would be if their design crew was tripping on massive quantities of acid…and even then…it wouldn’t be a good excuse.”
McKeel Hagerty, CEO of the company, ordered up the survey after noticing that several of what he calls “nerd cars” were increasing in value. He says he was surprised when the Pacer-a notorious dud from the days of disco-topped the list. Hagerty bought himself a dark green 1976 Pacer three years ago for $2,300.
“If anyone thinks I’m picking on Pacer owners, guess what-I am one,” he says.
I. Here are the top 10 worst design picks:
1. AMC Gremlin
AMC Gremlin Like other AMC cars (see the Pacer) the Gremlin can be seen as either a daring leap forward by an innovative underdog or as a desperate attempt to do something – anything – that would stand out in a marketplace dominated by larger competitors.
Despite its odd looks – and despite being named for a mythical creature said to cause mechanical problems – the Gremlin actually sold fairly well for an AMC model. A total of about 675,000 were produced.
Despite its size, very small by the standards of the day, the Gremlin offered decent performance compared to its 1970s competitors. (Not that that’s saying much.) Unlike competing compact cars, the Gremlin was even available with a V-8 engine.
2. AMC Matador
AMC Matador No, the Matador was not a great car. But was it really one of the 10 worst passenger vehicles of all time? Hagerty Insurance’s car collector customers think it was.
The unfortunate Matador, an undistinguished midsized car that was really a thinly made over AMC Rebel pitched as “all new,” may suffer from what McKeel Hagerty, president of Hagerty Insurance, calls AMC’s “negative halo effect.” Cars like the Gremlin and the Pacer are tossed out as prime examples of automotive awfulness so the Matador gets thrown in there, too, even if it was merely not so great.
The Matador coupe was actually named “Best Styled Car” in 1974 by the editors of Car & Driver. The Matador even had a moment of MTV stardom. In the long version of Michael Jackson’s “Black and White” music video he smashes the glass out of a Matador.
AMC’s ultimate failure as a business – it was bought by Chrysler in 1987 and only its Jeep brand survives today – adds weight to the popular notion that AMC cars were all laughably bad.
3. AMC Pacer
The main selling point of the American Motors’ Pacer wagon was its extreme width. Compact cars weren’t popular in the early ’70s, so AMC made the Pacer as wide as a Cadillac of the same era.
In the fuel-starved America of the time, a small car with lots of interior space no doubt seemed smart, and the Pacer did find a ready market in its early days. Unfortunately, the bulbous, blobby Pacer is remembered today as the ultimate example of “the nerdy car my parents drove.” (Its starring role in the 1992 geeksploitation flick “Wayne’s World” didn’t help.)
Introduced in 1975 the Pacer met with initial success, but sales dwindled quickly and the model was phased out after only five years. Among its odder features was a passenger side door that was four inches longer than the driver’s side door The idea was to allow easier access to the rear seats. Almost 40 percent of the car’s total surface area was glass, leading to “fishbowl on wheels” wisecracks.
Today, the AMC Pacer is seeing some interest as a collectible icon of the ’70s. McKeel Hagerty, president of Hagerty Insurance, the collector car insurance company that did the “Questionable cars” survey, owns one himself.
4. Chevrolet Corvair
Corvair The rear-engined Corvair, designed to compete against sporty European models then gaining popularity, earned a special place in automotive history. It was the subject of a chapter in Ralph Nader’s book “Unsafe at Any Speed,” which detailed the U.S. auto industry’s overall reluctance to take safety seriously. The Corvair’s alleged problems stemmed from its unusual rear-engined lay-out and the suspension that held it up. That design led to unstable emergency handling, according to Nader.
It’s hard to say whether the Corvair was much more dangerous than other cars of its time. This was the early 1960s when safety was still, as Nader’s book pointed out, a barely acknowledged afterthought. (Try to find anyone wearing a seatbelt in a 1960s car ad. For that matter, try to find a seatbelt.) You could probably name any number of cars that were, arguably, just as dangerous for a variety of reasons, including a few models that are remembered fondly today.
But the Corvair got top billing as a death trap and General Motors did its part to ensure a lasting impression. Instead of just improving the Corvair’s rear suspension, which it did, GM also hired private investigators to dig up dirt on Nader. The private eyes didn’t get any dirt, but they did succeed in forever typecasting GM as America’s favorite auto industry bad guy and the Corvair as a killer.
GM and the Corvair, by being such an easy target, ultimately helped bring about the creation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and things like crash tests and safety standards. There can be no question that our automobiles are much safer today as a result.
Before all the bad press finally clobbered sales, despite the improved rear suspension, the Corvair was produced in a surprising variety of body styles including a van, a station wagon, and a pickup truck with a side ramp. In all, about 1.8 million were made.
5. Chevrolet Vega
Chevrolet Vega The Vega was an early attempt by General Motors to break into the fuel-efficient compact car market. Unfortunately, the Vega quickly earned a reputation for consuming, not gasoline, but motor oil. The Vega’s aluminum engine just wasn’t up to the job and, according to various sources, the cars were plagued by mechanical problems, including a hearty appetite for lubricants. Premature rusting was another commonly reported issue.
If true, it was probably a bad sign when, eight miles into a test run on GM’s proving track, a Vega literally fell apart, as related in a book by John DeLorean recalling his days as head of Chevrolet.
Despite its many issues, the Vega was a fairly popular model in its day and almost 2 million were produced. (A little over 2 million if you count its Pontiac sister model, the Astre.)
GM produced about 3,500 (relatively) high-performance Cosworth Vegas which are (relatively) collectible today. “They sell for more than you’d think,” said McKeel Hagerty, president of Hagerty Insurance, which conducted the survey.
The vehicle shown here is an example of the even lesser known Yenko Vega in racing trim.
6. Chevrolet Chevette
Chevrolet Chevette Another GM attempt to compete against small, inexpensive imports. And, again, this one wasn’t a market flop. In fact, the Chevette was the best-selling small car in America for the 1979 and 1980 model years. Ultimately, 2.7 million were produced over its lifetime.
But it is remembered today for being mechanically troubled, poorly constructed and underpowered, a sad reminder of the trouble Detroit automakers had (and still have) in responding to the flood of small, cheap cars from Japan. The attempt to piggyback on “Corvette” with the clever Chevette label only made things worse. Why draw attention to meager performance by trying to pretend there’s some relationship to Chevrolet’s legendary sports car?
7. Ford Edsel
Edsel The Edsel wasn’t just a car. It was supposed to be a whole new car line. There were seven Edsel models altogether, including three wagons: the Ranger, the Pacer, the Corsair, the Citation, the Roundup, the Villager and the Bermuda.
In retrospect, Edsel’s marketing mission looks suicidal. In the 1950s, Ford saw some demographic daylight between Ford and Mercury and between Mercury and Lincoln and a single brand, Edsel, was conceived to fill both those gaps. The Edsel was supposed to be sophisticated and technologically advanced – you could shift gears by pushing buttons on the steering wheel – but the name is synonymous today with “colossal marketing flame-out.”
Ironically, the Edsel was named after Henry Ford’s son, Edsel Ford. As Ford Motor Co. CEO in the 1920s, Edsel was known for his elegant sense of style. In contrast to his father, who built the company on the dirt-cheap and rugged Model T – “any color as long it’s black” – Edsel recognized the importance of good design in the mature automobile business. His guidance was a big reason the Model A looked so much handsomer than the Model T.
The Edsel cars’ aptly named “horse collar” grill was immediately the focal point of crude jokes. But mechanical problems in the early cars, a market shift toward smaller cars and a general economic downturn just as the models were hitting showrooms probably did as much as anything to seal Edsel’s fate. If times had been richer, Ford might have just changed the grill.
8. Ford Pinto
Ford Pinto Images of flaming Pintos are so seared into the public consciousness that it’s probably hard for most people, unaided by a photograph, to conjure a mental image of the car while not on fire.
The issue wasn’t just the car itself, however, but the alleged decision-making process within Ford Motor Co. Media reports at the time drew a picture of a company virtually psychopathic in its disregard for human life and suffering. Ford was willing, it seemed, to let a certain number of people – company officials even estimated how many it might be – be burned alive rather than spend a few dollars per car to stop it. (Ford defenders have said that at least one company memo central to this thesis was taken out of context and misinterpreted by the press.)
Once the allegations became widely known, Ford’s defensive public response tainted consumer perceptions of the Pinto and all Ford products of the time, according to Douglas Brinkley’s biography of Ford Motor Co. “Wheels for the World.” It was 1978 before Ford, faced with public hearings into the matter, finally recalled the Pintos it had built up to 1976.
In one trial Ford Motor Co. was even held criminally liable for deaths in a Pinto fire. Ford won that case.
In retrospect, it turns out that about as many people died in fiery crashes in Pintos as in other popular cars of that time, although crash tests indicated the gas tank problem was genuine.
9. Pontiac Aztek
Pontiac Aztek Sadly, the Aztek could have been a successful vehicle if it hadn’t been quite so hideous.
On certain rare occasions a car company can produce a model that many people find unattractive and yet, somehow, it ends up finding an adoring market. The Honda Element is one example. The Chrysler 300 is another.
Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way with the Aztek. In its five year production run, just 115,000 were made. The crossover SUV’s exterior, reminiscent of Pablo Picasso’s cubist period, doubtlessly drove away many buyers who might have loved the versatile vehicle packaged inside. The Aztek was always highly rated by its owners, garnering top scores in J.D. Power’s owner satisfaction surveys.
When the Aztek was finally replaced by the Torrent, a Chevrolet Equinox with a Pontiac nose and tail, GM billed the Torrent as Pontiac’s first ever SUV. Even GM, it seemed, wanted to relegate the Aztek to the scrapheap as quickly as possible.
Yugo Chinese car companies are now talking about entering the U.S. market, so you’ll see the Yugo cited frequently as an example of how not to do it. Lesson number one: There is a definite limit to what Americans will accept in exchange for a low price.
Introduced to U.S. buyers in 1985 at a price of $3,990 the Yugoslavian-built Yugo sounded like a bargain. It was, by far, the cheapest new car you could get. But the Yugo’s reputation for awful build quality – which some dogged defenders still insist was undeserved – quickly became the stuff of legend. Yugo jokes were almost as numerous as lawyer jokes and just as scathing. (No, the rear window wasn’t really heated to keep your hands warm while pushing it, but you actually may be able to double the car’s current value by filling it with gas.)
Consumer Reports, in its review of the Yugo, called the car “hard to recommend at any price” and concluded that “you’d be better off buying a good used car than a new Yugo.”
The Yugo stands out as the only car from a non-U.S. manufacturer to make the Hagerty Insurance “Most Questionable Cars” list.
“I threatened a couple of times to buy one and leave it in somebody’s driveway,” said McKeel Hagerty, president of Hagerty Insurance.
II. Top Ten: Ugliest cars
Not long ago, modern cars tended to have the stand out qualities of a pillar at the Parthenon – they were neat, uniform, and virtually indistinguishable. But then we began to get some cars that dared to be different – cars like the Renault Scenic, Ford Ka, Ford Focus, Fiat Coupe, Audi A2 and Land Rover Freelander. Not all are raging beauties, but they’re interesting, attractive and desirable. It doesn’t always turn out that way though. Sometimes the manufacturers, even the big ones who have done their market research and their customer clinics, manage to drop visual clangers that ring far and wide. Here we salute ten of the most memorable of recent (and not so recent) memory. They may be ugly, but the World would be a duller – if prettier – place without them.
1. Bristol Blenheim
The Blenheim wasn’t really styled – it just sort of happened, its bizarre flat-sided looks evolving around a set of ageing components whose chief merit was that they were available off-the-shelf, like those Vauxhall Senator rear light clusters. The Blenheim’s basic shape goes back to the mid seventies and the 603, while its girder chassis can be traced back 40 years to when Bristol first started using Chrysler V8s. Not a bad car to drive despite such apparent disadvantages, but decidedly bizarre to behold. Today it’s almost an anti-fashion accessory, so offbeat some consider it cool.
2. Ford Scorpio
This was Ford’s last big executive car. Based on the old Granada, the idea was to give the old bus a facelift with a restyle that would separate it from the horde. And Ford certainly achieved that, the Scorpio’s bug-eyed headlamps and fish mouth of a grille amazing the journalists who saw it first. But the make-over backfired, sales nose-diving as Granada-man revolted against the guppy-like front-end with its permanent look of surprise. As for the rear, with its weird and wavy strip of chrome: well, that looked like it was pinched from a different car altogether. Rare, and deservedly so.
3. Morgan Aero Eight
Daring to update a Morgan is bit like modernising the Mona Lisa with Giorgio Armani glasses and a Gucci watch – the result would be a desecration. And that, sadly, is the Morgan Aero Eight. Attempts to smooth its shape make it look like a part-molten plastic model, while the headlamps give it a unique and unmissable cross-eyed stare.
None of which appears to worry buyers, who are queuing for two years to get one, clearly blinded with excitement at the thought of Morgan producing something new, and very, very fast. Or maybe they are just plain blind. It is a brilliant drive by all accounts, and packed with new high-tech features – but could you live with those looks?
4. Fiat Multipla
The deliberately controversial ‘Elephant Van’ is a car buyers either embrace wholeheartedly or wouldn’t be seen dead in – which makes it rather like the Citroen 2CV. It’s cleverly built, and offers you the unusual possibility of seating three up front, the chosen ones facing an almost recklessly individual dashboard that looks as if it was designed by Fisher Price toys. Despite such weirdness, the Multipla turns out to be one of the best-driving small people carriers there is.
5. Marcos Mantis
The original Marcos 1800 coupe of the early ’60s was a pure and elegantly muscular sports car, but the shape has responded amazingly badly to subsequent and recent fiddlings, which seem tantamount to vandalism when you see the original. Its absurdly macho wheel arches and spoilers make it look like a mutant, though there’s no denying that its appearance suggests power. Still, it has survived, though those with more a refined aesthetic sense may wish it hadn’t.
6. 1986-92 Mitsubishi Debonair
the name makes you smile, then the styling while probably make you laugh out loud. Sadly never sold in the UK – one rarely gets a laugh on the road – but in Japan this was Mitsubishi’s ultimate executive saloon, its pedigree stretching right back to the ’60s. In fact the original 1964 Debonair ran through to 1986. The early cars had a certain kitsch charm but not the follow-up, whose breeze block styling was kept ultra-conservative to appeal to Japanese executives, who presumably do not want to stand out, no matter how dashing they might be.
7. Daimler Dart
This was Daimler’s belated attempt to get hip and groovy with a be-finned glassfibre sportscar. The Dart looked like a creature plucked from the deep with its mouth-like chrome grille and staring headlamps, and things didn’t improve as you eyes travelled rearwards. Launched in 1959 it was impressively fast thanks to a gem of a V8 engine but the chassis – copied from a Triumph TR3 – lacked a certain amount of rigidity, as proved by the doors which had an embarrassing habit of opening during gung-ho manoeuvres. The Dart did nothing to save Daimler from being swallowed whole by Jaguar in 1960, whose management stopped production shortly afterwards.
8. Pontiac Aztek
Looking like a refugee from the set of Judge Dredd, the hideous Aztec is Pontiac’s attempt to offer an MPV/off-roader ‘cross-over’ model. It provides an excellent lesson in the perils of grafting one species onto another. Unsurprisingly, buyers have stayed away in droves, despite a hugely expensive launch campaign and a heap of cashback incentives. Stocks of unsold cars are building impressively as I write, and the word is that the Aztec could become an embarrassing failure of Ford Edsel proportions. Meanwhile, General Motors has belatedly promised a restyle.
9. Standard Vanguard Phase II
The original post-war Vanguard aped 1940s Plymouth styling and looked reasonably modern, in a fat-as-a-pie kind of way. But the notch-back Phase II of 1953 looked simply ridiculous – tall, narrow and dumpy, it resembled a full-sized child’s toy. The clumsy Pontiac style grille was an attempt to give the car American glamour, but it had about as appeal as a lump of chewed bubble gum. Interestingly, the Phase II was the first British private car to be offered with a diesel engine, turning it into a slug on wheels.
10. Hyundai Atoz
Styling has rarely been a strong suit chez-Hyundai, and the Atoz probably represents its poorest effort yet. Most mini-cars have a kind of intrinsic cuteness about them, if only because they are small and cuddly. But not the runtish Atoz. Tall, narrow and teetering on its castor-like wheels, it looks like a storage box of the kind that you banish to the attic. What’s it like to drive? Frankly, you barely notice amid your embarrassment. Perhaps sensing that it had birthed a mutant, Hyundai has produced a restyled version called the Amica, whose garish chromed grille is guaranteed to win its driver ridicule.
III. BONUS VIDEO
1. Ugly Cars
2. Must See – Idiotic Car Wrecks
Original Post -> Cars with Worst Design. Ugly Cars